Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ways of telling a story

Kathryn Biglow won the best director's award at BAFTA. She was the first woman director to win the best director's award in the history of film and television award in Britain and there is a high probability of her winning an Oscar award coming in few weeks time.

So what is the big deal?

A. She is a woman director
B. She was narrating a story based on war
C. She won against her ex- husband James Cameroon, who has already been acclaimed for his contribution in Hollywood

I have not watched The Hurt Locker but I have watched Avatar.
I really did not find Avatar anything to speak about, except for its special effects.
But so did I think about Slum Dog Millionaire, which swept most of the awards in all academies. I really cannot say what is the criteria of winning an award?

What was the reason why Biglow won this award?
Is it because her telling had a 'feminine' emotional chord?
Would a male director would have told the same story differently?
or was it for the first time in history an ex- husband and wife were fighting for an award? A strange battle between man's creativity v/s woman's.

As I said I have not seen Biglow's creation and I would like to believe that her work is as good as any cinema that has been created by great director's in past.
And yet when a woman wins an acknowledgment for her work all these questions pop up. Why can we not take creation of work of any art for its face value? How does it matter who has told us the story?

I feel very confused when a woman's creation has been treated under separate categories. And yet I do not oppose the validity of such movements. I know the full intellectual need for such movements. I also know how history ignores those stories that interest woman's lives. I acknowledge if not for such categories many stories of the subaltern subjects would have never been known. And yet I feel hard pressed to justify my creative impulse as women centric.

I am in dilemma because very soon I will be seating among the scholars who will be presenting their views/papers on the gender related aesthetics. I am wondering how am I to justify my art practice... as a woman or as person who lived those moments in my life. I know nobody is interested in my life but they would certainly be interested in seeing 'woman' in me.

There are ways of telling the same story. Which one did Biglow choose?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mumbai diary-1

Mumbai diary are stories of understanding the city through its people.
For me a city is not just its architecture, history or industry it carries. It is primarily its people, who remain invisible in the pages of history. This is an attempt to know these faceless people whom you encounter and make the city for you. This includes you and me.

Here is the first story

It was late afternoon and weather was getting hot and humid post holi.
I was sweating profusely,and decided to catch a cool cab instead of taking train to Chembur. Road travel would mean I would take extra 45 mts of travel but a cool cab would have made the journey more comfortable.I thought. Unfortunately there were none in sight. After waiting for half an hour I gave up on cool cab and decided to hop into a regular yellow cab. I got into first cab that was standing in a neat Que and asked the driver "Chembur chalenge?" Man in his mid forties was in the driver's seat, reading a news paper ,waiting to pick up his first( I came to know later that I was the first customer of the day) passenger. He looked at me for a moment and got up and turned his meter box. I was so tired standing in the sun, that I just hoped into the back seat. Shade is a great pleasure.

As the cab chugged along the road, it began to creak... louder and louder as we covered few kilometer; I began to notice the interiors...It was probably a 1985-86 model of Fiat. Back seat was covered with large floral velvet print upholstery which was worn out and needed refurbishing. Passenger seat too had collapsed on one side as springs of the seat had given way with the burden of passengers weight. I looked at the steering wheel and the speed o meter was dead years back. Metal body of the car had rusted and even the door handles and knobs were missing. If I had leaned on the car door and I would have flung out on the road very next moment. I shrunk myself to contain on the seat occupying as little space as possible . Car was way beyond its age of working condition and it was quite apparent from its protest.

As the creaking got louder and louder, I began to fret that the cab might stall just half way and I might get stranded in the middle of the highway. There was no way of hopping out of the cab, as we had touched high way, and traffic was zooming past at 80-100 kms. Now the anxiety and heat both started to get on to me I began to panic. I knew I was in hopeless situation. Just to distract myself from the noise and heat, I thought of striking a conversation with the driver. "How old is the car brother?' I was sure the driver was from UP and that would be the best way to get talking . There was a pin drop silence. I thought he did not hear me so I repeated the question again.

This time he replied "25years" and again a long pause. In a very apologetic tone he told me the cab had been de-commissioned he spoke haltingly." If we get caught on the road by traffic police , than taxi will get confiscated" "what?" my eyes nearly popped out, I certianly wanted to hop out of the cab at that very moment.... all the emotions welled in mind, anger, frustration, helpless and sheer self pity ruled my heart mind and body at the moment.I just cursed my luck.

Resigning to my fate, I decided to carry on the conversation. I had 1 and half hours drive left. So I asked... usual questions..Where does he stay? How many children does he have? can you make the ends meet with cab income , I just kept asking questions , I was not even interested in knowing the answers.I wanted to kill time.

The driver began to tell his story. Man from UP had come to Mumbai in 1992 in the middle of Mumbai riots. Bought a second hand car and was plying it on the roads for last 25 years. Father of four children , had manged to buy a small slum dwelling with this cab. He had managed to educate his eldest daughter and marry her off. His second son was doing medicine and younger two kids were still in school. But he had regrets. His sons were unable to help him in earning extra income and his married daughter who earned well was not able help him pool though his hardships as her salary was given to her in laws. The burden of making ends meet was weighing down on him heavily.

In that hour and half drive , driver wanted to tell me his frustrations , happiness, his dreams, and disappointments to a stranger whom he had never met, and probably whom he would never meet again. I just felt his frustrations of living in a city. I myself have lived many of those moments he was narrating. Finally he concluded his story by saying "I want to buy a new cab- a cool cab , but I am just helpless. Every day I take my cab out thinking this is it. Today my cab will be confiscated and I worry every moment what next?"

There was strange silence. As if we knew exactly what the other person felt for each other.We just shared with each other our pains of living in the city. By now I had forgotten car noises or even the searing heat. We had reached the destination.As I got off the car and paid his bill, I told him, never give up on life. It has its strange ways . He nodded and smiled for the first time. "Would you like to take a ride back home? He am willing to wait and won't charge you the waiting charges." he said. " No , go ahead if you get a passenger" I declined politely.

As I walked to my uncle's home, I though only in a city like Mumbai,you can connect with a perfect stranger and trust him/her with your life story and than disappear in the maze again. we had not even exchanged our names. Rather it was not necessary. He just wanted somebody to know that he exists. I acknowledge.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Myth of Adam

This part of the creation of myth is never written or told.

Once upon a time God was alone in this universe and he thought why not create a world. So he made this beautiful earth and populated with many animate and inanimate objects. But he was still missing something and then he thought I will create a perfect being. Who will keep me busy and amused. So he created a woman and called her Eve. Eve truly kept God amused with her curiosities and questions and her playful pranks.

She lived alone in the garden of Eden, and passed her days. As she grew she felt she needs a companion besides animals who were her friends. She needed a mate who could think and talk like her. So she went to God and said, "God you made me to amuse yourself. but I am bored and lonely on this beautiful planet . So why don't you make a companion for me"

God thought for a while and said, "Sure, I am the God of the universe and I have ultimate three qualities. I create. I preserve. I destroy. I will make a male companion for you. And since he will be my replica he too can have only three qualities, as you like. " So God made a man and called him Adam.

Eve was very happy. She took him to Eden . Now she could talk to him play with him and even argue with him. But soon she returned to God and said " God you made Adam, tall, handsome and beautiful but he is dumb! So I don't mind if he is not so tall, but make him intelligent " Pleaded Eve. God agreed and made Adam short but intelligent. Thinking now Eve would be happy. But Eve soon returned to God and asked to change beauty with braveness. God did as she asked. But Eve came again and changed Adam's handsome-ness to loving nature. And she kept coming again and again asking God to change some qualities in Adam.

Finally, one day Eve stopped coming to God. So God became curious and asked her " Eve, are you happy with the Adam now? And what do you think are those three qualities of a your perfect mate?" Eve looked at the God and said" God, I am happy with Adam, because I chose him to be kind, creative and wise being. And to answer your second question ,whether I have a perfect mate? No. I don't have a perfect mate because I realized since you made man in your own image he can not be perfect. So I live with Adam what I think is best for me"

Rest of the story is history.....

Moral of the story: GOD DOES NOT MAKE A PERFECT MAN!

Disclaimer: The story is just a "myth" and does not intend to hurt any body through gender bias

Thursday, February 4, 2010

why we suck up to west?

One of my good friend gently reminded me that way to my career's success is through 'west'. Start showing your work in western galleries museums, and if a western curator touches you , vola you will be instantly famous back in India. Well, she is certainly aware of the new success mantra of Indian art but I beg to differ. I believe that way to success to any form of art is through its people. And visual art cannot be different from other forms.

Let me narrate three different scenarios.

Scene I
Many years ago , I was helping a young gallerist and curator to manage her gallery. As she used to promote young artists, I happened to invite the then upcoming struggling artist/woman if she would like to show her works with this gallery. Considering the time when artist had to wait for years for their first solo , I thought such an invitation would make the young artist ecstatic with joy. But I was wrong . She in a matter of fact tone said" Don't take it personally sweetheart, but I am not interested in showing with any other gallery except xxx gallery in the town. Right now they are not interested in my work but I keep showing them my new works and will wait patiently, till they approve it one day". Her reply stunned me, so I asked her " May I know at least why only that gallery?" and she replied, "Honestly, I am not interested in Indian gallery or art scene. I am aiming at international exposure, and right now all the international curators , collectors are visiting xxx gallery. So I am sucking up to them" she said with a triumphant smile on her who had clearly checkmated her opponent in front.

Scene II
In one of the high flying opening galas of the famous artist I bumped into a flamboyant gallerist who was out to prove that he means business. He narrated this following incident. When he approached a young artist to enlist her on his gallery muster , she told him straight on his face that she was not interested in Indian galleries. When he asked what was her reason she said " I am going to show only in the the international scene. I know if I show with A list galleries in west all the Indian galleries will come running after me. This way I can circumvent years of my struggle to get recognized by the art scene in India. It is simple logic. Mr.X, I suck west ,you suck me."

Scene III
A non art trained , artist's collective based in India showcases their works more in international forums than in India. Rarely known in India, but widely discussed, written and talked about in the western art forums and curators are considered as the only relevant art production from India worth looking at or studying their work. However the Initiative's claim their art as people oriented/ interactive projects. One of the curators once told me when he approached the group he was told that they would work with him only if he is curating an international show.

Just to wrap this case study, in all three above cases, artists are considered today(so called) successful artist/s because they applied the mantra of 'west first' for instant recognition. More and more younger artist are following their footsteps.

It shows some grave faults within the art world that could be the reason for such a trend. I have no problem for getting recognition in west, but I object the trend to ignore and distrust the cultural intelligence of the people that you choose to represent. So why we suck up to western art world to understand our own cultural matrix and decide what is good for us? There could be many reasons for this. For e.g.

1.Artists have no faith in Indian public, that they can understand and critically appreciate their work

2. There is dearth of Indian curators and historians who can contextualize their works and their art practice for its people.

3.There is lack of Museums and state support that can bring the public and artists to establish an sustainable relation between the two

4. Finally and not the last, we Indians still believe that western masters know our culture best and are the best barometers to decide what is best for us.

Whatever may be the reason , I feel these are some serious issues that is plaguing the Indian art scene today. Faster we address them better we will communicate with our own people. Culturally we will have more vibrant and diverse visual art practice.
Because what will matter when Indian art history will be written, not how many shows you had in western art museums, but what kind of changes you brought within the art practices in India. That is where the contribution of KG Subramaniaum, Gulam Muhamad Sheik , Bhupem Kakkar and others matter.